SYD BARRETT...IS ROCK DEAD...AND OTHER RANDOM THOUGHTS
Some random thoughts...
SYD BARRETT: If you look at the charts, you won't see much on Syd Barrett, but I think his influences are monumental and his character is certainly worthy of a mini series. If you don't know who Syd Barrett is, find out. If you do know then I think it's in your best interest to re-familiarize yourself with "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" the early Pink Floyd masterpiece. The thing about Syd is that he really only had a brief moment in the spotlight, the rest of his life is stuff of legend. The ultimate fragile, mis-understood artist. To me, Piper at the gates of Dawn not only set Pink Floyd into motion, but epitomized the UK psychedelic sound which in turn influenced more than a generation of some of the must powerful music of our era. The thing about this album is that it wasn't acid induced ramblings that went no-where (though the epic "Interstellar Overdrive" on side 2 of that album kinda goes there, but does it with style and a memorable opening riff. The rest of the album are clever, fairy tales, performed with melodies, wonderful lyrics and a sound that was unmistakably original and memorable. It was the foundation of Pink Floyd. I encourage everyone to celebrate the madness of Syd Barrett and re-live Piper at the Gates of Dawn in memory of this genius.
IS ROCK DEAD?: Well, maybe. Who cares, it'll never go away. Is Jazz dead? Nope, even though we are well beyond "The Jazz Age". What will keep Roc alive for the foreseeable future is the fact that historically people form their lifelong musical game plan between the ages of 16-20. Before 16 one often goes with the popular flow based on fashion, what's cool that moment or whatever, but come 16 and you become an expert. When I was that age, there were fist fights over who's better Cream or the Rascals. Who's a faster guitarist Clapton or Beck. everyone is an expert that is protective of THEIR personal musical vision. There were people in their 30's or 40's, who in 1969 were convinced that Hendrix was a fad....the Hendrix fans would soon find their way out of the drug induced Hendrix state and come to their senses and "grow up". It never happened, guys like Hendrix were the soundtrack for this era of 16-20 year olds and now n '06, Hendrix is still revered with the same passion as in '69. Talk to someone 50 today and ask them the music they like. If they like "AC" then I assure you that when they were 16-20, they were into The Carpenters and Bread more than Zeppelin or Tull. People don't turn 25 and go "Oh--I'm an adult now...I guess I like Adult Contemporary" all of a sudden. This 16-20 thing ain't new. Talk to an 80 year old and they'll tell you that Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey were the greatest ever...they were THEIR Led Zeppelin. Talk to someone who was 16-20 in the 80's and it might be Metallica, 90's Nirvana. The point is that music that people love between 16-20, the musical formative years, are what one likes for life.
The period of 65-75 was an interesting era musically. The fuel was there. Drug revolution, sexual revolution, chaos on the streets, Viet Nam, Moon landings and a true revolution in musical technology with the advent of 16 track recording, sound modification through effects (Fuzz tones and beyond), synths, and an arms race in terms of amplifier wattage. ALL of this happening in a relatively short period of time contributed to the intense period of musical adventure that propelled music for 30+ years. At some point THIS movement runs out of steam. There’ll most certainly be another period of this explosive musical growth and in fact it may be happening now, though probably in it’s developmental stages. One thing that’s happened is that people tend to be discovering traditional artists like Johnny Cash or Ray Charles. I find many people have a built in desire to be challenged musically, and if it’s not happening with current music, they go back to other eras and sounds to meet that challenge.
As long as there are Rock artists making memorable and powerful music to TODAY'S 16-20's, Rock will survive. And you can say this for ANY genre. The point with Rock is that Rock RADIO is dead, but Rock music is really in the hands of the artists, IF they stop delivering to the days' 16-20's then indeed Rock will die. That's not a bad thing, every music form has it's day, in 50 years there may be books (or whatever the medium is then) where people joyfully remember "The Rock Age"...tine moves forward, I just hope that inventive music stays around and that there are always places to hear it!
DISCO DEMOLITION: I had the luxury of being involved in the WLUP CHICAGO of 1979 as discussed in a prior blog. What made that station go to #1 12+ was it's positioned as an Industrial strength Chicago style ROCK station in an era where a lot of Guitar fueled Chicago guys were looking for an Army to join. Loop was that army. New Wave and Disco were happening and personally I appreciated both styles, maybe more than the latest from Nugent and Cheap Trick. But---I was playing with a sizable investment from owner Cecil Heftel and we needed to deliver a large passionate audience of FANS for him, so the station adapted a "Rock or Die" plan. The idea was to be completely focused on 1979 ROCK. Everything about it. Oozing sweaty festival seating Rock in every moment. I brought in Steve Dahl who oddly enough was working at WLS-FM...THE DISCO STATION! Met Steve in Detroit at the old W-4...Stern was brought in to replace Steve after he re-invented the Morning Show there. Steve was actually the first whacked Rock radio morning guy, though Sonny Fox & Bob Leonard at WYSP in Philly were the first true "funny morning team" on FM . Those guys were out there. Sonny used to do his show from his bedroom which was filled with characters, TV monitors for News and hangers on. ONLY in 197 could this happen. More on that later. Sonny is now PD of XM Comedy Channels. Anyhow, Dahl immediately GOT the Rock thing. Started blowing up Disco records on his show. This was SYMBOLIC of the LOOP's commitment to the Rock mission. It was all very military in strategy as Disco was looked upon as the enemy and LOOP was the army that would liberate Chicago from this menace. Rock listeners viewed this with the same fervor as Europeans looked at the liberation of their Countries by the American GI's in WW2. Some viewed this as a "book burning". C'mon! It was radio theater at it's best. It was all tongue in cheek. eventually a deal was put together with the floundering White Sox to hold Disco Demolition NIGHT at Comiskey Park. The rest is history. The aftershock of that night was incredible, complete with Point/Counterpoint interviews on TV with Baseball experts, Dahl countering with the fact that the Sox have NEVER gotten that many people into Comiskey Park since 1959....and a forfeit with The Tigers had no impact on their fight for last place. Interesting times. A RADIO station was headline news. That station qualifies as one of the greatest moments in broadcast history. They were unbeatable, though eventually they beat themselves through visionless management (They fired Dahl because he was "difficult"...) and a renegade internal situation that is the blueprint for how NOT to handle runaway egos. However, for a fleeting year or so, WLUP, THE LOOP defined the idea of turning listeners into fans.
RADIO PASSION EXPLAINED: No doubt I'm a huge fan of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. Here's a commentary that appeared in the Austin Statesman by a College professor. I really think what he said is pretty powerful, and that while his POV is that of an older Dylan fan, WHAT he says is timeless:
Bob Dylan Reminds Us of Our Common Dreams
by Tom Palaima
this commentary appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, July 15, 2006.
Just over two years ago Bob Dylan offended many old fans by appearing in a Victoria's Secret lingerie ad. Victoria's Secret outlets sold a special compilation of his painfully honest love songs, spanning some thirty-five years of his experiences with life and love. He stood accused of selling out. A few voices were raised in his defense, including mine right here at Common Dreams.
Well, Bob Dylan is breaking the hearts of Americans again, mainly those born between 1925 and 1955, and he is doing so on a weekly basis. If you are smart, you will give him a chance to break yours. Let me explain.
Take a look around. In the 1930's through the 1960's, an empowered federal government, its protective laws, unions, effective consumer-advocacy groups, graduated taxes, and the Supreme Court pulled us out of the Great Depression; enforced protections for workers and all citizens against the hiring, labor and sales practices of big corporations; and overrode states-rights-based racial discrimination against minorities. The Supreme Court also gave women some control over their own bodies and lives. We won a major world war by uniting behind it, paying for it, and engaging in universal symbolic citizen sacrifice: "Bye, Bye. Buy Bonds. Save Chicken Fat. And Join the WACS." We protested against an undeclared war in a distant land, and again relied upon the judicial system to make sure that the executive branch of government did not act against or beyond the law.
These lessons are now forgotten. These achievements are undone or under attack. We are waging a large-scale undeclared preemptive war by raising our debt, not our taxes. The U.S. senator from Texas, John Cornyn, denigrates the U.S. Supreme Court, declaring that five people, also known as a majority of Supreme Court justices, should not determine what the people of his state can do about the American flag, or, by implication, any other such issue. This is a shameless act of divisive political pandering by a former justice of the Texas Supreme Court, who has sold his soul now to Karl Rove's political strategizing.
Life is rootless and impersonal. Citizens feel powerless. With hundreds of cable stations, we no longer share a common experience at the one communal hearth we used to have: television. Remember three national networks, Huntley and Brinkley and Uncle Walter Cronkite? People are entrusting the most important aspect of their lives to services like selectivesearch-inc.com. It promises to "take the labor out of finding love" by applying to personal lives the vetting process methodology that is "so effective in corporate America."
And now Bob Dylan breaks our hearts. How? By his weekly Theme Time Radio broadcasts on XM satellite radio, warm evocations of old-timey radio. In each hour, Mr. Dylan covers a chosen theme: Mothers, Fathers, Baseball, Coffee, Weddings, Divorce, showing how the common musical traditions of the United States shaped our lives in song and lyric. The broadcasts are one-hour lessons in the history of who we were and are.
Mr. Dylan's succinct commentary makes the music shine. He is witty, gently humorous, erudite and always reverent about the music he is playing. We hear the sounds of big band, country swing, rock-a-billy, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, jazz, Nashville, MoTown, Sun Records, Frank Sinatra, the Ink Spots, Bob Wills, Prince La La, Dirty Red, and Kitty Wells. Interspersed he gives plainly spoken information about the artists, where they came from, where they went, who influenced them and what influence they had. He recites lyrics, painting pictures of our lives in sound.
Mr. Dylan doesn't peddle himself or anything else. No product placement here. Period commercials are spliced in to set the mood. A listener asks on Theme Time Coffee: "Why do you play so much old music? Do you have something against new music?" Mr. Dylan replies, "I like new music. But there's more old music than new music."
Mr. Dylan retrieves many classics and brings to light many should-be-classics. On Theme Time Mothers, he plays Buck Owens' "I'll Go to Church with Mama," and tells us an old joke from Buck's t.v. show "Hee Haw." He spins Ernie K. Doe's 1961 chart-topper "Mother-in-Law," and LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out," explaining its ultimate origins in the African-American insult-song contests known as the "dozens".
Theme Time Radio is hip, but not Tarantino's jaded hip, or William Shatner's self-mocking hip. Mr. Dylan respects the music we and he loved. He respects the artists who created it, even lived it.
Mr. Dylan tells us that Billy Stewart, who poured his soul into his version of the Gershwin Brothers' "Summertime," died in a cars crash at age 32, in the summer time. And Bobby Hebb wrote the beautiful "Sunny" overwhelmed by the assassination of JFK and the death of his own brother in a knife fight the very next day. Hebb needed to pour his soul into something good in life, a song, and then pour it back out for us.
Another listener writes that she likes to listen to baseball broadcasts at night, but that bothers her boyfriend. Mr. Dylan's solution, "Put the radio under your pillow and rest your ear on the pillow. That's what it's made for." Remember listening to ball games like that, or music programs from distant cities at night? These shows are so humane, so out of time, they will break your heart.
Bob Dylan is still protesting. He is protesting our fast-paced, dehumanized present by calling us to gather round the hearth of old time radio. He is reminding us that we are in this thing called life together and that America is many different voices. Stop and listen to Theme Time Radio. Listen to life in all its crazy beauty.
Theme Time radio reminds us that we share common problems, common sorrows, common joys and common dreams..
Tom Palaima is Dickson Centennial Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin